•Note, this blog post is written by guest blogger, Matt Gibson, who is a finalist for the Ski Utah Foodie blogger position. Comment, engage and share this post. The Ski Utah Foodie Blogger will be announced here, this upcoming Monday at noon.
"Our specialty is pork belly steamed buns," the hostess chirped. "We've become pretty well known for them."
We were in Plum Alley, a trendy Asian fusion bistro in downtown Salt Lake City. The hostess was white. Our waitress was white. The patrons were all white. I was probably the only person in the restaurant who could read the Chinese characters on the front of the menu, which read "hao che," and mean delicious in Chinese.
You see, I used to live in Taiwan. I lived there for six years. It just so happened that I lived a half a block away from one of the best steamed pork bun restaurants in my city (it's a very popular dish in Taiwan) and ate there several times a week. You could say that I'm a bit of a pork bun connoisseur. So, when a teenaged Utah-born hostess tells me that the steamed pork buns are good, I take it with a grain of salt. That's something that I need to decide for myself.
The dish in question
The pork belly steamed bun was not what I expected. In Taiwan, the pork is cooked inside the sealed bun. In Plum Alley it was served on top of it.
I eyed the imposter pork bun suspiciously. The pork appeared to have been braised in a dark sauce with which I was not familiar.
I sniffed the rich sauce before taking a cautious bite. It was tender, rich, and delicious -- reminiscent of the recipes I'd tasted in Asia, but with a marked western influence.
The pork was drier than I'd hoped. The pork belly I love is juicy with a tender rubbery texture, similar to good octopus. That, however, was my biggest complaint.
On the drive home I contemplated my feelings about the imposter pork bun, trying to decide what I'd write about it.
Then, when I got home I found myself telling my girlfriend Emilie (who'd also lived in Taiwan) that I'd discovered a great little place where we could get some bao zi (the Chinese name for the dish).
So, we're going back tomorrow. Plum Alley is oceans away from my favourite Taiwanese pork bun restaurant, but think it's going to be a fine replacement.
Other Dishes Worth Trying:
The house noodles are spicy and probably the dish I liked the most. I ate three servings. I liked them as much as the noodles at Cafe Trang.
The pickled vegetables had a tangy kick of vinegar, which I enjoyed.
Plum Alley has several unique varieties of homemade ice cream such as honey and bourbon.
Tip: if you don't like spicy food, ask your server for suggestions. Dishes aren't marked as spicy on the menu, but some are quite hot.
111 E. Broadway, St. Suite 190 (see map)
Salt Lake City, Utah